The “P” is for Propaganda

If you’ve driven on an Ohio highway, you’ve probably seen police cars with the letters “OSHP” emblazoned on the side.  And it’s likely you assume those letters stand for “Ohio State Highway Patrol.”   I’m not so sure.  I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that the “P” stands for “Propaganda.”   

Merriam-Webster defines “propaganda” as  “ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated and that are spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc.”  This is accurate, but I think more generally, propaganda happens whenever the government controls the message.  And I suppose an organization of police is bound to be, let’s say “control oriented.”  

This thought comes to mind as I think about last week’s argument in the Ohio Supreme Court about whether footage from the Ohio Highway Patrol dash board camera is a public record. The Highway Patrol took the position in that case that the footage of a vehicle pursuit (“car chase” in plain English) is an “investigatory record,” the release of which would disclose “investigatory work product.”  Did I mention the footage is the film of one car chasing another car? Perhaps NASCAR should get in on this and start calling it the “Daytona 500 Investigation.”    Just a thought. And I guess whoever is running behind Usain Bolt in Rio later this summer will be conducting an “investigation” as well.  

And while the Highway Patrol’s position is pretty ludicrous on its face, it’s worse when considered in light of the Patrol’s PR activities.  I noticed this nugget the other day on the Highway Patrol’s Web site:  

Troopers Discover Heroin, Cocaine in Scioto County Traffic Stop

Troopers stopped a 2015 Chrysler 200, with Pennsylvania registration, for a speed violation on U.S. 23 southbound, near milepost 8, in Scioto County at 8:17 p.m., on June 11. Criminal indicators were observed and a Patrol drug-sniffing canine alerted to the vehicle. A probable cause search revealed a small amount of cocaine residue on the front seat. A search of the passenger revealed approximately 157 grams of heroin in his shoes. After interviewing the suspect, he admitted to having another 40 grams of cocaine, eight grams of heroin, and a semi-automatic weapon at his residence. The contraband has a street value of $28,752. The suspect, Robert L. Turner, 34, of Portsmouth, Ohio was incarcerated in the Scioto County Jail and charge with possession of heroin and trafficking in drugs, both first-degree felonies.        

I am trying to figure out why the Highway Patrol gives such a detailed description of this incident on its Web site, but won’t produce the video that would disclose the same events.  Why can we read the book, but not see the movie?  Footage would allow the public to see the demeanor of the police and the suspect, whether the police needed to use any force and whether the level of force used appropriate. But it wouldn’t disclose any confidential information or other “investigatory work product.”  What this does illustrate, though, is how the Patrol can use the law to control the message.  The public sees what the patrol wants it to see, if and when the Patrol wants the public to see it.   

And the same applies to video of vehicle pursuits.  The Patrol has its own YouTube channel.  And guess what’s on it?  If you guessed dash board camera footage of vehicle pursuits you would be correct.  Here’s another one.   So on those chases that the Patrol thinks are cool go to YouTube.  But if you want footage that the Patrol doesn’t want to share, you’re out of luck.   

That’s not transparency – that’s propaganda.